Over-Seasoning Buffy

March 6, 2010
By | 14 Comments

SPOILER ALERT: This season on Buffy, The Vampire Slayer fan favorite Oz returns. Unfortunately, so too does fan least-favorite, Riley. Old foes Warren, Amy, Dracula, and Ethan Rayne all make appearances; Harmony’s back as well and she’s starring in her own reality TV show. Buffy meets the Slayer from the future, Fray, while in the present, the Slayer army loses all its powers. Meanwhile, Buffy gains the powers of flight. Dawn and Xander hook up, Buffy explores her sexuality, Willow goes dark again, and finally, Angel turns out to be the Big Bad. Phew… a lot has happened, and the “season” ain’t even close to over yet. If this were actually a weekly series, I’d say it was either the most amazing season ever or that Buffy has finally jumped the shark (although anyone who watched Buffy season 7 on UPN would probably say that already happened).

I am, however, referring to the chain of ongoing narrative events taking place on Buffy: Season 8 in comic book form. Debuting in March 2007 and currently 33 issues in, the Season 8 moniker is, on the one hand, a gimmick intended to convey to readers that as overseen by Joss Whedon, the comic book is officially in continuity with the TV series, picking up where season 7 ended. On the other hand, labeling this series as somehow “televisual” is also perfectly in tune with the ongoing cross-fertilization between the comic book and TV worlds, with talent like Whedon, Mark Millar, and Damon Lindelof moving between both media, adaptations and spin-offs on both sides of the pond, from Smallville to Battlestar Galactica, and genre/style comparisons abounding, whether we’re talking short-lived praise for Heroes or references to Alan Moore’s Top Ten as the Hill Street Blues of superhero procedurals.

Amongst all of this blurring and borrowing, however, the one television concept that simply does not work for comic books is “the season”. Seasons imply definite temporal boundaries. There is always an end in sight and part of the pleasure as well as the pain of viewing a season’s worth of TV is knowing that it will wrap itself up, well or poorly, within a finite number of episodes. Yes, serialized TV may leave viewers sweating through a season-ending cliffhanger or eight, but viewers still know that at a certain point the season will end, whether things are resolved or not, and that anticipatory foreknowledge is essential to the TV viewing experience.

And herein lies the problem with Buffy: Season 8. As a comic book, it does not follow the same narrative rhythm as prime time network television. There is no end in sight, just an infinite succession of story arcs, whose relation to the overall series is designed to be expansive, opening up future storytelling possibilities. This is perfectly in line with the economics of comic book retail sales that increasingly rely on trade compilations available at chains like Barnes & Noble and Wal-Mart to hook new readers by offering self-contained mini-book-length stories that form part of an on-going franchise.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I like reading the Buffy comic. It is well written, capturing the clever dialogue and pathos that made the television series so appealing. The artwork is compelling, with snippets of manga-esque imagery interspersed with some near dead-on recreations of the original actors’ likenesses. The opportunities it provides for exploring parts of the Buffy universe impossible to capture on TV without radically blowing up the budget, like Dawn’s years-long transformation first into a giant and then into a Centaur, add texture and spectacle that enrich the franchise. But as a television season told in comic book form, it has really sucked precisely because it insists on adopting the organizational schema of “the season,” leading to expectations that all of this is somehow driving toward a climactic confrontation between Buffy and Angel rather than exploring multiple facts of the Buffyverse that chart its expanding boundaries.

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14 Responses to “ Over-Seasoning Buffy ”

  1. Brad Schauer on March 6, 2010 at 9:23 PM

    Interesting post — thanks. I haven’t read the comics (I think I quit BUFFY somewhere in Season Four), but I figured that the title “Season Eight” was simply a way of differentiating this canonical series from all the other non-canon Buffy comics Dark Horse has released over the years. But now I read that they’re actually transitioning into a “Season Nine” series, which supports your claim that they’re making at least some effort to mimic the narrative organization of the television show. But it also contradicts the idea that there is “no end in sight” for Season Eight.

    Obviously, comics are structurally closer to soap operas than season-based shows, but can we look at longer comic “events” (like DC’s 52) as similar in some respects to serialized TV seasons? They typically have a much broader scale than the average television show, but can have a similar narrative complexity, use rising and falling arcs or mini-arcs, etc. They also offer a fair amount of narrative closure, even if the subplots continue indefinitely in other comic series and other events.

  2. James McGill on March 11, 2010 at 6:01 PM

    Joss actually has said that this season 8 series is designed to stop somewhere between now and #40 I believe. I don’t know which number. So It will be ending and season 9 will be starting at some point.

    • ern on March 12, 2010 at 5:27 AM

      You’re right. This has always been a forty issue (+/- a few) series from the beginning. I don’t understand this complaint about an “infinite series of arcs.” Each arc is like an episode, with a beginning and end, and each arc leading us to the conclusion. The weird thing about this complaint is that the end *is* in sight. It’s only a handful of issues away. Did this person even bother to do any digging before making themselves sound like an idiot?

  3. Mylene on March 11, 2010 at 6:24 PM

    I agree that there’s no end in sight. Of course, they’re planning season 9. But I think there is 8 issues left to the season 8, so that makes 8 month… god, 8 months is normally the time for a whole season! Saeson 8 has been running for like 3 years now!

    That being said, I really appreciate the season 8… the story makes sense, and is really a continuity of the show.

  4. Kris on March 11, 2010 at 7:46 PM

    Yeah, you’re whole theory is wrong based on the fact that every arc in season 8 is building to something–the end of the season with issue #40, which has been planned since before the release of the first issue. In this sense, Buffy Season 8 is actual more final than television, as a tv show could a) be canceled at any moment or b) every season is ordered and then a second back 9 is ordered is placed separately completing the usual 22 episodes. The only major differences are that arcs are a little longer than episodes, and due to the nature of production in comics, the issues or “act breaks” take a month to create.

  5. Hannele on March 11, 2010 at 8:24 PM

    While it may not make sense in terms of the usual financial model for selling comic books, I see no reason that the comic book form itself is somehow incapable of telling stories in a season-ish format.

    Personally, I find many comic books (and television shows, for that matter) annoying precisely _because_ they have no end in sight. Without an overarching story, eventually it always becomes a game of “who haven’t we hooked up yet?”, or “this new bad guy is even badder than the last one, we swear!”, or “this new problem will be solved via this new and exciting superpower!”, which quickly gets old.

    Mainly, though, it just makes me sad when a favourite show (or what-have-you) goes out on life support rather than on a quiet and dignified conclusion.

  6. Matthew Fabb on March 11, 2010 at 8:28 PM

    As others have pointed out Joss Whedon had a beginning and an end in mind for season 8. It’s just the middle has expanded outwards in that time, as I think originally editor Scott Allie said Season 8 would be 20 issues and now it looks like it’s going to be around 40 or so issues. I was going that’s something you don’t find in tv, but then I realized, you do with some shows getting 13 episodes for a season before being picked up for more episodes pushing a season over 20 episodes.

    Also apparently similar to a tv season, there apparently will be a gap between season 8 and 9. Whedon apparently wants several months off from the comic and he also wants time to regroup with the writers involved to see what they want to do within his season 9 storyline. There’s also been talk that Dark Horse also might wait for a few issues get be finished before releasing the first issue of season 9, so that if they fall off schedule, they will have a bit of buffer rather having to delay an issue.

  7. [...] a link to the article:  Overseasoning Buffy by the excellent Avi Santo. Tags: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Comics, Joss Whedon, Television [...]

  8. Matt on March 12, 2010 at 12:15 AM

    Joss Whedon and Scott Allie (editor of the Buffy comics) have been saying for years now that Season Eight has been planned as a run of 40 issues, with eight distinct arcs (and a few one-shots). While I agree that the structure of a TV show doesn’t lend itself to comics perfectly, I think Buffy has been incredibly successful in their transition. In fact if you count each arc and one-shot as a seperate episode, you end up with around 20 unique stories, which is about the length of a standard TV show anyway.

  9. jasontab on March 12, 2010 at 12:52 AM

    the season is uneven, really good points but overall it would rank near S4 and S6 in the overall judgment of the show.

  10. Faith on March 12, 2010 at 2:31 AM

    I miss SPIKE! Lots of insignificant characters made appearances on Season 8 (as the least-fan favorite Riley, Warren and Amy), but not Spike who was one of the main characters on the tv show… that’s not fair! I’m a fan of that show and of Joss Whedon mainly because of Spike. Spike is my all-time favorite vampire with a soul. He was a true champion, not Angel. He sacrificed himself for Buffy and for the saving the world. Not having Spike on Season 8 is a big lapse, so that I’ve dropped the comics…

  11. baturalp gülbay on March 12, 2010 at 7:20 AM

    i think comics are not good enough.they should write a really good book about season 8

  12. marco on March 12, 2010 at 1:53 PM

    I agree, basically, with the article. JW is supposed to have said somewhere recently that when he agreed to do Season 8 it didn’t dawn on him that 40+ issues meant nearly four years of continuity. Not sure I buy that, but … .

    I _have_ bought all the comics so far. But I would have much preferred to have had the thing end at 22 issues, with each comic representing the value of a TV show in that format.

    It would have insured quality throughout, instead of the up-and-down experimentation fans have been subjected to for three years running. The fault for that sits at the publisher’s desk, IMHO.

    BTW, I think the script is in good hands now.

  13. James on March 13, 2010 at 12:07 AM

    That is a very interesting perspective. I have felt they have been doing more than they ever would in a TV season. I just read an article here: http://bit.ly/cdTWR1 which has some interesting perspective. Specifically, how do they reconcile Angel being the big bad with Angel having his own comic?